Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla: Biography of a Genius

ISBN: 0806519606
ISBN 13: 9780806519609
By: Marc Seifer William H. Terbo

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About this book

Nikola Tesla (1856-1943), credited as the inspiration for radio, robots, and even radar, has been called the patron saint of modern electricity. Based on original material and previously unavailable documents, this acclaimed book is the definitive biography of the man considered by many to be the founding father of modern electrical technology. Among Tesla's creations were the channeling of alternating current, fluorescent and neon lighting, wireless telegraphy, and the giant turbines that harnessed the power of Niagara Falls.

Reader's Thoughts

John Kaess

The biography of Nikola Tesla. I wish someone would tell me why we learn about Thomas Edison in school, but not Nikola Tesla. NOTHING we have in our current society would be possible without the inventions and research this great man did. He is responsible for AC current which powers virtually every home and business in the world. Edison was in business making DC current and fighting a battle with Tesla (which Edison lost, thankfully) to have his vastly inferior form of electricity (because DC voltage and current drop over distance and can't be distributed for more than a few miles from where it is generated, while AC current can go for hundreds of miles). Tesla invented the florescent light (Edison did incandescent). Tesla invented remote control boats and vehicles. Tesla invented the oscillators which are the basis of radio transmission which Marconi pirated illegally and took the credit for (this was proven in court and Tesla was vindicated as the true inventor of radio transmission). These are but the tip of the iceberg. Tesla is without any doubt the greatest inventor in the history of mankind. He was also pretty flakey and had a huge ego and an inability to make sound financial decisions, but that does not take away from the greatness of his intellect and ability to see the potential of things that others had never given any thought to. The book is well written, though be aware that by it's nature, it does deal with science and inventions which the average person may be unaware of. I did not have any problem following most of the content.

Esa Ruoho

Well researched but disruptive biography on Nikola Tesla. Loaded with intrigue and drama. Author completely opposed to Nikola Tesla's Free Energy projects. He also takes the time to write a full chapter about how John Ernst Worrell Keely was a charlatan and a fake -- when you actually do proper research, you realize that Tesla and Keely were truly progressive inventors and researchers, Tesla into electricity, Keely into sound. Biographer is unqualified to make statements on Tesla's energy research, but still makes them. This is a biography which can be read by those who are not interested in anything Tesla did technologically / technically. This is for those who like to know where Tesla lived, which address, or whether he was straight or not. It's quite sad that this is held up as one of the best biographies on Nikola Tesla.

Dale Pearl

A mad genius. Quite possibly Tesla was a smarter man than Edison but he was quite mad, at least his behaviors and social skills would lead a person to think he was a mad hatter.

Jeni Enjaian

If I could give half stars, I would give this book 3.5. I enjoyed it but it wasn't quite good enough to warrant 4 stars. When I first started listening, I got really excited to learn that the author was determined to stick to strict chronology. For a biography this makes so much sense. I'm pleased to report that aside from a few necessary deviations, Seifer stuck to a strictly chronological narrative. I think I enjoyed this book more than I would have otherwise because I'm a huge fan of the Syfy shows Eureka and Warehouse 13. Those shows make so many allusions to Tesla and his contemporaries and they also get those references (for the most part) right. While I did not mind the more technical portions of the narrative devoted to Tesla'a inventions and breakthroughs, I know that some might find the specificity off-putting. One thing that bothered me was the lack of quotation designation. This probably is due in large part to the fact that I read the book as an audiobook. Listening made it hard to distinguish between quote and narrative. Also, some of the transitions in Tesla's life are unclear in the book. I must give the disclaimer that it may have been due to inattention on my part though the books is a little fuzzy at some points. One other pet peeve that drove me nuts was the author's far too frequent use of the word "utilize" instead of use. A history professor drilled that dislike (grammatical error actually) into me years ago and it still sticks. :) I did enjoy the book despite the British narrators awkward American accent and would recommend it to anyone how wants to learn about one of the greatest inventors of all time.

Fred Hughes

That Tesla was a genius is a given.This book goes deeper than that and at times he does appear to be a wizard. Highly educated, fluent in 12 languages, and a prolific reader Tesla even when young would not just accept something as fact just because some authority figure told him. If it didn’t make sense he would investigate it with vigour.That was both a positive and negative attribute as once he got something in his mind to work on he would do so without appropriate rest until he collapsed. He was driven in the true sense of the word.Seifer’s research for this book must have been intensive as it comprehensive in what is included.Great mind, Great Book

Jessica Baumgartner

Nikola Tesla had abilities beyond that of many people, and though this book tried to present his life from all perspectives it is full of so much information pumped into so many different paragraphs that it becomes tedious. I had to take many breaks before deciding that this book is just a dry, hard read. I can usually push myself through a good book but how can one tell the story of a legend like Tesla in just one book? I'd much rather read the papers that he himself published and form my own idea of the man behind the myth.

Jim Lyke

It had been many years since I read Margaret Cheney's book about Tesla, and I was still an undergraduate (in engineering). As many have commented, Tesla was amazingly under-appreciated in our society (one reviewer asked why we were taught about Edison but not Tesla). This book, despite its seeming subjectivenss towards Tesla, did a very good job in painting his darker side, his hyperbolicity about his later proposed inventions (especially wireless power generation and death rays), his hubris in lifestyle, and arrogance in mis-purposing the investments he received from JP Morgan to pursue far more aggressive aims, blissfully ignoring the more modest and potentially more achievable instructions. Had he simply done (or tried to do) what JP asked, it is likely he would either have succeeded (and gained much more deserved celebrity) or at least might have garnered more backing. Instead, he squandered most of these investments, and in an almost self-destructive bend, did much to undermine much of what he should be well-remembered for (the invention of the polyphase AC system we have used and taken for granted for over 100 years). I felt less sympathetic after this expose of over-pleading, over-selling, and casual indifference to his own financial matters.Being an electrical engineer, I didn't find this book "too technical", and in fact for my taste, it could have been more expository on the principles behind some of his inventions. But I guess that would have lost even more of the readers, based on the other reviews posted here.Unlike many of the other reviews, I didn't find this book too long or too prone to descend into minutae. I mean, read almost any of Manchester's books (such as one of his Churchill biographies), and you will see how other authors spend a lot of words/pages detailing not just the author but the millieu of the times. While that practice can be annoying, I didn't feel relative to other biographers, that Seifer over-stepped in this regard. I actually did appreciate more development of his Serbian background and connections.There were things I thought bizarre, however, about the book and these are probably annoying to more technical readers. For example, it seems that the author is trying to credit Tesla with the invention of the laser, apparently suggesting that Tesla, if not by intention, then by accident at least, have reproduced the resonant cavity effect necessary to produce laser amplification (I believe Seifer said that Tesla might have accidentally nicked a mirror in one apparatus to approximate the imperfect polishing needed to produce laser action). This seems ridiculous to me, and I have never seen any other analysis or evidence of this achievement. Tesla maintained any number of crackpot concepts, such as being able to produce energies that exceed the speed of light. Seifer, in trying to connect concepts such as tachyons to Tesla claims, appears to be straining credibility, as he clearly doesn't understand the concepts himself ("oh, someone said Tachyons are faster than light, so somehow that must be what Tesla was talking about"). These sorts of over-reaching implications/assertions led me to downgrade the book. Others had made comments about Seifers tendency to conjecture about personal interactions and meetings, though that didn't really bother me, as I felt these were made clear by context as not being source-able as actual occurrences. The final annoyance was an over-reaching attempt to connect-the-dots relative to "secret government" plots to take Tesla's ideas. As in many conspiracy theories (think Roswell aliens), it is very hard to prove something didn't happen, and after nearly a century you'd expect that any insights or concepts would have been thoroughly plowed through (I worked at Wright-Patt in the mid-1980's and discussed Tesla with the base history office, saw the "not you, too" eye-rolling when I asked where the secret plans were).I look forward to reading the new Carlson (even LONGER as a warning to the other reviewers who though Seifer's book was too long) biography on Tesla, in the hopes (as other reviewers commented) that Tesla will finally get the biography he deserves. Seifer's book, while on balance better than the other biographies I am aware of, was probably still diminished by some obvious built-in biases and the need to connect-the-dots with improbable links to lasers and tachyons.

Tom Haynes

So glad to have read about this man. He is an unsung hero of technology. Edison, Marconi, A G Bell we know about from elementary history. Tesla's name deserves his mention in history along with the aforementioned men.The world of patents, patent infringement, corporate manipulations, JP Morgan, NYC 1890-1930, pigeons, Warden Cliff, NY, WW l, WWll, death ray, Chicago world's fair, Tesla coils and motors, 100k volts passing through the body, are just a few of the ingredients of author Marc Seifer's excellent travels into the life of Nikola Tesla. Important history we never quite knew.

Tony Heyl

I hadn't read much about Tesla's life and inventions, so I thought this would be enlightening and a pleasure to read. As a person interested in science and technology, this seemed like a great choice. Instead, it was pretty boring. In some ways, Tesla comes across as the genius he is, being at the forefront of the electronic age and developing solutions and ideas for wireless communication, light, and electricity for all. On the other hand, his financial problems and his issues with getting credit for his own work could have been addressed if he just had an attorney helping him along the way. I became less sympathetic towards him as the story progressed as a result.The bigger problem for me in this book was the lack of context to the rest of the country and world. Good biographies weave a tapestry with the fabric of society at the time it was written or the context of the topic. See Robert Caro explaining the history of the Senate before writing about LBJ's time as Majority Leader or Nixonland as good examples. This is a timeline story of Tesla, with not enough to bring it back to really show the contrasts between this European immigrant and American inventers and his true place in history. Despite the work that Seifer clearly put into the book, it feels on the level of a high school thesis instead of a great biography.I wouldn't recommend this. It's not engaging enough, though the content is at times interesting.

Wayne Crich

A very poor biography in that the writer seems to have no real desire to give the reader any insight into Tesla. A wealth of detail that is of very little interest or value and has little to do with the subject of the biography. I am left with the impression that Tesla was a man with a fertile imagination but was unable to translate that into actual inventions that anyone would want to invest in. In short bordering on genius but not quite getting there.Way too long winded with unnecessary detail and too little on the subject. Edison seems a far more laudable figure.


I’m still looking for the definitive biography on Nikola Tesla because rest assured this isn’t it.The author throws non-essential information about like it was confetti. I knew from the first chapter when he starts with the history of Croatia that this would be a less than promising beginning. Unfortunately it doesn’t get any better. People keep cropping up who had very little contact with or influence on Tesla. Information on his discoveries are kept to a minimum while matters of who filed what patent and when go on ad nauseum. There’s very little real science involved. It’s amazing how many times the author strays off the subject to bring up a trivial piece of data I could’ve lived the rest of my life without knowing. I’m willing to bet that overall more of the text is not about Tesla. I wouldn’t have thought that a book about such a creative genius could be balled up to the point of practically making it unreadable. Cripes! Please, somebody write a really good biography of this man who deserves better than the treatment here.

Dave Peticolas

There are a number of Tesla biographies now available. I suspect I may have picked the wrong one. Much of it is serviceable and the bare facts of Tesla's life and times, presented copiously and in rigid chronological order, are interesting enough to make up for a plodding style. There are, however, definite flaws. For some reason the author chose to highlight a platonic romance between Tesla and a married friend. The details are totally uninteresting and its dramatizations are painful to read. It is as if an editorial mistake had strewn random pages of a lukewarm romance novel into a Tesla biography. Every bit of it could have been left out and the result would have been an unmitigated improvement.There are other problems. The author is a 'psycho-historian' and uses Freudian psychology and handwriting analysis to speculate on the motives of various subjects. I was not convinced. And the final chapters get well into conspiracy-theory territory in their speculations on what may have been done with Tesla's work on "death rays" among other things.Tesla is certainly worth reading about, but if you do I'd recommend passing on this one.

Adam Ford

This is not a great biography. But the subject is so fascinating that it largely covers the significant flaws.First the flaws: The author is an unabashed fan of Tesla and clearly has an agenda to make sure that the reader recognizes Tesla above Edison and Marconi and the other giants of the age. For instance, he denigrates Edison as using the brute force of a massive volume of experiments to come to what works while Tesla would think it through and do the math and find what would work and then test it to confirm. The author celebrates Tesla as superior to Edison because of this difference--Edison is the plodding, dirty, workbench-chained technician--Tesla is the brilliant scientist with pencil and paper and thoughts soaring above. There might be some truth to this contrast, but it is made in an extreme sense and seems unnecessarily judgmental towards Edison. And so forth throughout the book. A second flaw is that the author is so insistent in trying to prove Tesla's scientific priority over those that follows that he spends hundreds of pages going through technical aspects of patent applications and the inner-working of the various devices. This might be interesting to an electrical engineer, but to the lay reader it is tedious. I just about laid the book down once or twice. But there were enough brilliant insights to keep going.A few interesting anecdotes: Once Tesla nearly destroyed his lab building on Houston St. in NYC with one of his oscillators. Shortly afterwards he clamped one to a skyscraper under construction and nearly caused it to collapse, turning it off and slipping it into his pocket and slipping away in the confusion of men thinking an earthquake had struck. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tesla... (the book does not calim the oscillator cause an earthquake, but that the effect of the oscillator connected to a building's support structure was like an earthquake an could tumble a buildng within minutes. Amazing if true (and it sounds true to this non-scientiest--resonence of marching on bridges and all that). Tesla was backed at different times by both John Jacob Astor (the richest man in the world) and JP Morgan (the most powerful financier in the world). He failed to deliver both times, taking the money which was earmarked for one purpose and diverting it to another purpose. When he ran out of money to complete the non-disclosed purpose and came back begging for more money, he was rebuffed. If he had done what he told the two men he was going to do with the money (in both cases creating a product that could be taken to market) instead of burning through it on scientific research without an end, he would have been a very very wealthy man and who knows what he could have accomplished. As it was, he never was able to raise money after betraying JPMorgan and was unable to do much significant work after that time. Tesla was constantly a deadbeat borrower, evicted from many hotels for unpaid bills, and constantly begging others for funding during the last half of his life. It is sad to read, really. Tesla was a lifelong celibate, almost certainly homosexual, but never practicing. A man of amazing self-discipline and focus. His consuming dream was to provide free electric powerful to the world. It is unlikely that there is merit to this scheme or it would have been implemented somewhere at some time (same with his death ray concept which he claimed to have build a prototype). It seems the longer he lived, the crazier he became. For instance, he was fanatically committed to pigeons--paying people to feed them when he didn't have enough money to pay his rent. He loved pigeons more than anything for his last few decades. One favorite visited him, he claimed, and communicated to him it was dying and Tesla saw light shooting out of its eyes, telling Tesla that his work was also done. Very odd. He also had to circle the block of his hotel six times before he would enter each night. He wouldn't shake hands due to germs. Typical obsessive-compulsive behavior stuff. Sad. Bottom line on the man: Tesla was brilliant and we owe him much for our modern world is built on his inventions--everything that runs on electricity is a grandchild of Tesla. Tesla invented: AC current, florescent light, X-Ray machines, radio broadcast (the US Supreme Court ruled in 1943 that Tesla's patents were violated by Marconi), remote control of boats/airplanes/etc, the electric motor, robotics (and the entire concept of a robot), the laser, wireless communication. That is quite a list. His name deserves to be immortal. Bottom line on the book: Tesla is still awaiting the biography he deserves. But this one is worth picking up while we wait.


I endorse this book. If this book were a person, that person would kick Chuck Norris' ass. If this book were edible, your head would explode from the sheer ecstasy. If this book were a sound, your ears would explode--twice. I must warn you, though. If you aren't worthy, then this book will burn your hands upon contact. Only the most devote individuals have ever been known to hold this book and survive, let alone read it.In other words, this book is awesome.


When I review a biography, I usually start by saying "look how awesome this guy is" and then rambling about his appearance, his style, etc.Well, look how awesome this guy is. He's like a more dashing Marcel Proust. He's got a handsome but not showy mustachio. He's got that cool oiled hair thing going on.But Tesla's coolness is more about his showmanship. He took this terrifying, new thing called electricity, stuff that comes down from the sky and explodes trees and cows, and he just sits there reading a magazine while it rages around him. Or he'll walk out on a stage into the midst of bolts of electricity, walking through it like it's a waterfall instead of magical death light, protected only by the cork lining his shoes.And it's not just Tesla's wacky experiments that make him so compelling. It's his personality and his history of hardships. He's a tragic figure, the Melville of science, who ran into some fame and fortune, but was ultimately condemned to a life of struggle and a death alone in a hotel room.I won't force you to read this book. But you should at least read the Wikipedia article because this dude is really interesting.

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